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How Allah's sanction to Muhammad's marriage to his daughter-in-law Zaynab relegated marriage simply into an institution of satiating sexual desire; how it was for Zayd, Zaynab's former husband and the prime loser in this divine drama, a life-shattering experience; and how Muhammad paved shattered Zayd's demise from the world soon afterward????


"Your marriages were arranged for you by your fathers, but my marriage was arranged for me by Allah from above the seven heavens" -- Zaynab to Muhammad’s other wives

The above assertion was Zaynab’s claim to fame, which no other woman had been able to match. Indeed, no other woman was privileged to have her marriage and family life planned for her by Allah, and carefully documented in the preserved tablet and the Quran. Zaynab’s ‘divine’ marriage was not a private matter because its implications still affect the life of Muslims. As a corollary to satisfying Muhammad’s sexual desires, Allah had to ban the highly moral practice of adoption, and introduce, instead, a morally corrupt legislation that allows women to breast feed adult men. Another upshot of this saga is that the Muslims today are still perplexed and divided regarding the wisdom of the ‘barrier (~hijab) verse’ that in effect locks women behind the dark shields of Islam. The historical events mentioned in this article are well-documented in the Quran and reputed sira (prophetic biographies); no Muslim can question their authenticity. The analysis, however, is mine and an attempt to read the small prints to understand that famous Islamic love, or rather lust, story.

Zaynab Bintu Jahsh was related to Muhammad from her mother’s side. Being twenty-three years younger than Muhammad, he must have had seen her many times as a young girl in Mecca, and noticed her good looks, which explains why he had chosen her as a wife for Zayd, his adopted son.

Zayd Ibn Haritha was an Arab slave, who was given as a gift to Khadija, Muhammad’s first wife. Muhammad inherited Zayd after Khadija’s death and because he liked him so much he adopted him. The tradition of adoption in Arabia, highly respected by the Arabs, ruled that the adopted children enjoy the same rights as the natural children. Zayd demonstrated exemplary obedience and loyalty to his master and served him with extraordinary devotion. In return Muhammad treated Zayd well, indeed, so well that he eventually adopted him.

muhammad zaynab saga

The marriage of Zaynab and Zayd took place in Medina around the year 629 CE, when Muhammad had turned a renowned political leader in Arabia. Some Muslim traditions claim that Zaynab and her brother objected to the marriage on the ground of the superiority of her class to that of Zayd. Those traditions also claim that Zaynab really wished be married to Muhammad, not to Zayd. While it is understandable that Zaynab may have wished to marry Muhammad, who was the most important figure in Medina, there are doubts about the class issues because Zayd, once adopted, had automatically acquired the social class of his adopting father. Besides, Zayd was not an African slave but an Arab, who was captured in war.

The marriage was agreed and the couple lived in a house of their own in Medina. One day, while Zayd was away, Muhammad paid an unexpected visit to the couple’s quarter. While waiting at the door, a gentle wind blew a lightly woven curtain revealing a nearly naked figure of Zaynab inside the house. Muhammad was struck by the attractive figure of near-naked beautiful Zaynab, and went away saying: “Praise be to Allah, who can change how the heart feels”. The meaning of this ‘prayer’ is that Muhammad’s feeling toward Zaynab is now different from what it was, when he asked her to marry Zayd. In other words, he wasn’t attracted to her before, but now he is. What has changed in Zaynab that made Muhammad feel attracted to her? Obviously, when Muhammad peeped at Zaynab, he did not ‘see’ a change in her personality, but a nearly naked woman with a sexy figure. Zaynab told her husband of what happened, including what Muhammad had uttered as he left.

Accidents involving male and female members of the same family seeing each other in embarrassing positions or situations tend to happen in most households. The persons involved try to ignore the recollection or forget it completely without allowing it to have any negative consequences on their lives. What happened at the door of Zaynab would’ve passed without any far reaching consequences, had the person at the door been a man other than Muhammad.

The culture of strict sexual segregation practiced in the Gulf States, and some other Muslim countries, make some Muslims behave like wild sexual beasts. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the mere sight of a woman’s leg can be sexually-arousing experience to men. Women without total coverings were described by Australian Imam, Taj al-Hilaly, as uncovered meat; in other words, mouth-watering meals to would-be predators. However, it is hard to imagine that a man in his fifties, with many wives and sex-slaves at his disposal, would become a sexual monster at the sight of his daughter-in-law in flimsy dress.

There is nothing unusual for a man to see, accidentally, his daughter-in-law in underwear and Zayd shouldn’t have panicked at all, because it was nobody’s fault. But Zayd knew something the others didn’t know. He spent a lifetime with Muhammad and watched him grow from an insignificant person in Mecca to become a formidable warlord in Arabia, who claimed to have links with Allah. Zayd was not a psychoanalyst, and had no clue about why Allah had chosen his master to become a prophet. Muhammad’s success must have overwhelmed Zayd, who didn’t know how to make the connection between all those odd characters of Muhammad. Probably he thought it was all part of the package of being chosen by Allah. Having served Muhammad for years as a slave and then as a son, Zayd had a fairly good knowledge of Muhammad’s characters. He knew what his master liked and how he thought, and knew of the sex-monster imbedded in his personality. Zayd knew that, once Muhammad had a glimpse of Zaynab’s naked figure and uttered those words, no power on earth could stop him from having sex with her. For Zayd, the situation was a battle impossible for him to fight.

Zayd was so confident of his knowledge of the carnal nature of Muhammad that he had the courage to say to him what would be unthinkable for an ordinary Arab. Zayd panicked and went out looking for Muhammad until he found him, still preoccupied by his sexual fantasies about Zaynab. Zayd openly said to his adopting father, “perhaps you liked Zaynab, in which case I leave her for you”, to which Muhammad responded: “Keep your wife for you”. Of course, Zayd did not mean that Muhammad liked Zaynab as a person but as a sex-object.

Zayd offer his wife zaynab to muhammad

What makes a man to panic and offer his wife to his superior, just because he happened to see her in her underwear? It strikes me with wonder about the amount of fear that generates that courage for a down-to-earth man like Zayd to say something that would so improper, immoral and offending to any man—never mind a prophet of Allah and the chief of Medina! Muhammad’s response springs more surprises. One would expect him to be outraged by the morally offensive offer, but he responded as if he had been offered something to eat: ‘You may keep her! (…and of course, if you persist, I will take it…)’

It is not that Zayd had simply guessed that Muhammad possibly liked Zaynab’s figure, he was dead-sure that he had been infatuated by her beautiful figure; otherwise he wouldn’t have dared ask Muhammad to take his daughter-in-law the way he did.

Similarly Zayd was firmly sure of how much lust Muhammad had developed toward Zaynab; otherwise, he wouldn’t dare suggesting divorce her, paving the way for Muhammad to have sex with her.

Likewise, Zayd was aware that Muhammad was capable of destroying any person, who would dare stand in his way to have what he desired; otherwise, he would never have announce his willingness to hand over his own wife, whom he was supposed to protect.

Zayd was dead-sure that Muhammad would eventually get his way; otherwise, he wouldn’t dare to suggest doing something would put the respected law of adoption in disrepute, which Muhammad, until then, recognized.

From that moment, Zayd knew that Muhammad would do whatever needed to have sex with Zaynab, even if that it be cancelling well-developed Arab law and tradition.

Having lived so closely for over three decades, Zayd had developed his own psychoanalysis of Muhammad’s personality. Muhammad’s generosity and kindness were always for a purpose; in Zayd’s case, they were because of his extraordinary commitment and total obedience to Muhammad. Zayd knew that he shouldn’t read too much into the fact that, he was Muhammad’s adopted son, because even that bondage wouldn’t tame the sex-monster Muhammad was.

Muhammad’s sexual desires towards Zaynab were not the product of the heat of the moment; weeks later, he was still in his world of fantasy about her. He became thoroughly convinced that Zaynab was too endowed to be given to Zayd. As with all other difficult problems Muhammad had faced, he had to use Allah to get his way.

One afternoon, while relaxing in Aysha’s house, closing his eyes and, undoubtedly, thinking of that beautiful figure of Zaynab, he came up with an ingenious solution. He suddenly opened his eyes with a big smile on his face, and said: “who can go to Zaynab and give her the good news? Allah ordered me to marry her”.

This is what Allah had to say:

وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ زَوْجَكَ وَاتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَتُخْفِي فِي نَفْسِكَ مَا اللَّهُ مُبْدِيهِ وَتَخْشَى النَّاسَ وَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَن تَخْشَاهُ فَلَمَّا قَضَى زَيْدٌ مِّنْهَا وَطَرًا زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَرًا وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا

[Q.33:37] Behold! Thou didst say to one (i.e. Zaid), who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: "Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah." But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that there may be no difficulty to the Believers in marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled.

Allah sanctions Muhammad-Zaynab marriage

As usual with translated Quran, the above translation contains serious and deliberate errors, this time, to conceal the rudeness of the original Arabic text. Yusuf Ali, Pikthal and other translators were stuck in the Arabic word ‘watara’ (coloured red), which means desire, want or need. I couldn’t help laughing when I read things like ‘dissolving the marriage’ and ‘divorce formalities’! What formalities were known at the time of Muhammad?

A more accurate translation would be: “when Zayd had finished what he wanted from her”. A man’s need for his wife is a lifelong need; there is no time in a successful marriage, when a man can say to his wife: “now I had accomplished my want from you” unless that man is speaking about sex. In simple language the above verse says: “as Zayd had finished from Zaynab, now it is your turn”.

In remarkable insensitivity to the suffering of Zayd, the prime victim of this whole saga, the above verse starts with a rather impolite reminder about Muhammad’s past favours to him. There is also a perceptible disrespect to women and the institution of marriage, in general, in this verse, as it suggests that Zaynab’s marriage to Zaid was for satiating mere sexual desire. The verse mirrored what was in Muhammad’s mind about Zaynab, and exposed his lack of integrity and his failure to recognize that Zaynab was a “loving” wife to Zayd, not merely a sex-object, like the way Muhammad wanted her for himself.

The section in above verse, “you feared people and it’s Allah whom you should fear”, raises another valid and embarrassing question that has no convincing answer. It is a sin for a Muslim to fear people more than Allah, and in the case of Muhammad, that sin contradicted the very principle of ‘issma’—i.e., his supposed infallible nature as a prophet. However, Muslims, who only see miracles in the Quran, come with this explanation to this issue: “this verse is a miracle that proves the Quran is from Allah, because had Muhammad authored the Quran he wouldn’t write something in it that implicates him”. Muslims do not grasp the idea that the Quran is Muhammad’s own thoughts spoken loudly. It is normal for people to kick themselves if they feel they made the wrong decision. In the above verse, Muhammad kicked himself, because he shouldn’t have let the fear from the public opinion to delay his decision to have Zaynab for himself.

Zaynab’s saga is one of those many Islamic issues that lie behind the red-line, which Muslims do not like to discuss or debate very often. In their defence, they say the moral of the story is that Allah wanted to put an end to the practice that prohibited the marriage of the divorced wives of the adopted sons. The Arabs have an old saying that describes this explanation: “the excuse is worse than the offence”. Muslims become speechless when they are reminded that Allah could have revealed a verse about the new legislation without having to go into that socially damaging scenario. That is, of course, if we accept that there was something wrong with the old legislation, which there wasn’t.

Out of all his marriages, Muhammad celebrated this one the most, probably the only one he threw a party for. A large number of guests were invited to enjoy free food, courtesy of Muhammad, and the celebrations went on for several days. Muhammad might have regretted that generosity because, one day, after everybody had his food and left, three of the guests stayed behind. Muhammad left them briefly to see his wives, and when returned, he saw they were still engaged in what seemed like an endless gossip. Muhammad was craving to be with Zaynab in bed, but those bad-mannered guests were wasting his valuable time. While waiting impatiently for them to leave, Muhammad must’ve recalled that infamous day, when he saw Zaynab in her underwear. He remembered that gentle wind that blew the lightly-woven curtain away revealing Zaynab’s beautiful figure, which led to his infatuation for Zaynab. Suddenly, Muhammad became alarmed, lest the same happens again, but to others at the door, including those guests, staying late at Muhammad’s home. Muhammad decided to shield Zaynab, and his other wives, with thick, windproof, curtains for added protection. Filled with greed and selfishness, Muhammad sought divine verses, not only to ask those men to leave, but also to stop all his followers from peeping at his wives or marrying them after him. Allah was waiting for Muhammad’s call and immediately revealed this handy verse, with far-reaching consequences for the Muslim woman-folk:

Q. 33:53: “O you who believe! do not enter the houses of the Prophet unless invited for a meal, but not waiting for its cooking being finished, but when you are invited, enter, and when you finished eating then disperse, do not linger for conversation; that would hurt the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it from behind a barrier (a curtain, Arabic for hijab). That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not for you to hurt the messenger of Allah, nor that you ever marry his wives after him. That in Allah's sight would be an enormity.”

Allah's sanctioning of veiling in Islam

The above verse is now famously known as the Hijab Verse. As we can see it has nothing to do with the hair or head scarves. How many of those Muslims, who read the Quran every day, noticed that? So far, I met none!

The end of Zayd

Moral principles, ethics and human integrity were all losers in this tale, but Zayd was t he main victim because he lost his beloved wife and family life. Unlike Muhammad, Zayd did not consider Zaynab as a sex-object, but his only wife and partner for life and his entire family. He must have had struggled with his inner sense of loss and disappointment that it was divine will that broke down his family, robbed him of his beloved wife, and give her to Muhammad, who already had a number of wives and sexual partners. A blow of that magnitude would devastate any person regardless of his will-power or ability to endurance. But for Allah, punishing Zayd, it seems, wasn’t harsh enough as yet, as the Almighty delivered next shattering blow to Zayd in revealing verse Q.33:4:

....nor has He made your adopted sons your sons...

This verse delivered the final blow to Zayd’s only remaining comfort as concern Muhammad in that the warm fatherly bondage that Zayd had developed for over three decades, which was still connecting him to Muhammad, was also destroyed with the stroke of this divine revelation. With this verse, Zayd became an abandoned man, who not only lost his wife and father, but also his future and social standing. Totally, heartbroken and let down by Allah and his messenger, Zayd had to settle with the lie that he too was a winner because his name was mentioned in the Quran. His only option was to live in the shadow of the man, who was behind all this, to sing his praise and love him more than he loved himself, which Allah, indeed, demanded of all Muslims [Q 33:6]:

The Prophet is more worthy to the Believers than their own selves...

As to Muhammad, who got everything he wanted, there remained one tiny blemish that kept spoiling the pleasure of his greed. That was those sad looks from the eyes of Zayd. After his marriage with Zaynab, Muhammad didn’t see in Zayd anything more than a reminder of his insatiable hunger for sex. Zayd, once Muhammad’s loving adopted son, is no longer welcome in the world of Allah’s perfect man. Zayd had to go.

In 629, Muhammad decided to send Zayd to his final trip. He sent him with a small unprepared and poorly equipped army of around three thousands men to Muta, in present-day Jordan. From the beginning, the mission was doomed to fail because of the superiority of the Roman army in numbers and equipment. Muhammad assigned Zayd to hold the flag, which made him the first to be targeted by the enemy. The humiliating defeat was no surprise, neither was the fact that Zayd was one of the first to be killed in that battle.

And Muhammad lived happily ever after!